By Philip Womack
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 0 7475 9552 6
London and New York are fiction writers' favourite cities to put in danger of annihilation by criminal masterminds or black magic forces. In Philip Womack's The Liberators, it's London's turn to quake before an evil menace that intends to bring the city to its knees. But never fear. As usual, there is a plucky young hero waiting in the wings to save the day - and thousands of grateful citizens.
Ivo Moncrieff is on his first trip to Britain's capital to spend Christmas with his aunt and uncle while his parents are on an expedition to South America. His aunt, an artist and social climber, and his financier uncle are both wrapped up in their own worlds, so Ivo expects to have a lot of time to himself to explore London.
One day, while waiting on a station platform for a train, a stranger pushes an object into his hand seconds before being murdered. In the ensuing chaos, Ivo leaves the station and goes to his relatives' house, but stays quiet about the mysterious object now in his possession. However, Ivo knows that now someone somewhere will be looking for him - and what that the dead man gave him.
Womack builds up a small but strong set of characters and a solid setting in the first third of the book. Ivo becomes friends with a couple of local teens, Miranda and Felix, and together the three of them attempt to find out the identity of the murdered man and who, or what, caused his death.
Ivo's aunt introduces him to Julius Luther-Ross, a sinister acquaintance and his nephew, Strawbones. Womack skilfully sets up these two characters to be the villains of the piece, but we have to wait awhile until the true nature of their villainy is exposed.
After a bit of detective work, Ivo and his friends uncover an ancient cult intent on bringing chaos and, ultimately, destruction to London. It's all exciting stuff, as the nature of the Liberators and what they are up to is revealed.
Womack keeps a tight rein on his characters - confining them to the London locations - and this helps to bring a feeling of intimacy to the thrills and suspense.
The Liberators is a modern supernatural thriller with all the required pace, tension and question marks to keep readers turning the pages. Womack's writing is clear and to the point, and he sensibly never shifts away from his tense story.
He clearly has strong feelings for London and ensures the city plays as big a part in the story as character and plot. If a reader knows and cares little about London at the start of the story, they definitely will after 300 pages with Ivo and his friends as they battle a cataclysmic threat.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com